By: John Seelmeyer 

It’s not unusual for producers of B-movies to generate 80 percent of their budgets from product-placement deals.

Reno’s VizKinect is carving a niche for itself with technology that helps movie producers strengthen their pitch to advertisers and helps advertisers better understand how audiences see the placement of their products in movies.

The company rolled out technology this spring that allows marketers to see in real time how audiences view a commercial.

“We can tell them quantitatively how many people saw their product and how to improve it,” says Norman Smith, president and chairman of the privately held company.

Small dots — a separate color is assigned to each viewer — scamper across a researcher’s video monitor as the software tracks the paths that viewers’ eyes follow as they watch video programming.

The company is gaining traction with advertising agencies that want to see precisely what viewers are looking at when they see a commercial.

A test of a political ad earlier this year, for instance, found that a large majority of viewers were looking mostly at the teeth of a candidate rather than the message of the commercial.

For producers of smaller-budget films, data about viewership is likely to translate directly into more lucrative deals.

One VizKinect client, David Zito, the producer of the 1984 hit dance movie, “Breakin,’” says his latest production includes spots for product placement from more than 20 companies ranging from a computer maker to a bicycle manufacturer to sportswear and clothing companies.

He’s working with VizKinect to create data that will help him get top dollar for placements in the new hip-hop movie, “The Boogaloo Kid.” The value of product placement depends on their ability to capture the eyes of moviegoers, and even a slight shift can result in dramatically different results.

Smith points, for example, to a test of a scene from “Giant Killer Hogs,” an upcoming movie produced by Reno-based company, Antipode Entertainment, Inc. Two product placements — one for Harley-Davidson, one for Captain Morgan Rum — are part of the scene as neon signs to either side of a bar’s menu board. The Captain Morgan sign to the right of the menu drew substantially more eyeballs and could have commanded a higher placement fee.

The eye-tracking technology allows for quick turnaround of tests, and VizKinect’s newly launched Web and mobile software allows producers to see the results of the tests on their own computer or mobile device.

“They can make changes as they are editing the ad,” says Bailey Hein, one of the company’s eight staff members.

Along with film producers and makers of television commercials, VizKinect is also working with videogame producers such as Reno-based 3G Studios. Smith says the company’s growth has been slowly bootstrapped as it develops new clients through referrals from existing customers as well as through the connections of its directors and advisory-board members.

Growth would be accelerated, he said, as the VizKinect is able to raise additional capital that allows it to open offices in Los Angeles and Emeryville, closer to the hubs of the movie and technology industries.